How to Reduce Shipping Delays and Improve Returns Using These 6 Strategies

How to avoid shipping delays with returns strategies

Yes, your orders will inevitably be delayed once in a while. If it happens to the world’s largest ecommerce companies, it will certainly happen to you. Similarly, ecommerce returns are the buyers’ prerogative and will occur from time to time. That is assuming you have provided for returns in your terms and conditions. 

The good news is you can minimize or stay on top of these fulfillment mishaps by establishing appropriate countermeasures beforehand. Let’s take a look at strategies you could apply to do just that.

1. Work with Warehouses, Distribution Centers, & Suppliers Near Your Target Market

Two factors are crucial to timely fulfillment:

  • The average distance from the warehouse or distribution center (DC) to your customer.
  • The warehouse or DC’s lead time. That is, how long it takes for goods to be delivered once an order is received.

The greater the average distance goods need to travel, the more opportunities for transport delays and the greater the minimum lead time on your orders. 

You can reduce the risk of shipping delays by engaging warehouses, DCs, suppliers, and service providers that are as near as possible to your customers. By doing so, you will cut down on overall freight rates as well. 

There is no ideal average distance that applies to all businesses. It depends on several factors such as: 

  • Where the majority of your customers are
  • Where you biggest customers are
  • The geographical spread of your addressable audience
  • Your target lead time (based on an industry-standard or competitor lead times)
  • Your warehousing budget, i.e. the number of warehouses and DCs you can afford to work with

You can complement fulfillment network geographical planning by offering curbside pickup.

2. Automate the Process and Invest in Technology

Customer support teams want easy returns tools and automation

Do it right the first time” and Zero Defects are philosophies that workplaces worldwide have adopted over the years. It’s an invaluable ideal that has proved central to consistent success. Unfortunately, humans are predisposed to making mistakes. The average person regrets just over 18 percent of the decisions they make in their lifetime.

The lower the degree of human intervention in your supply chain, the lower the likelihood of errors that could cause shipping delays or order returns. Automation creates process predictability and gets things done faster. It also places much or all of the responsibility for order accuracy in the hands of the customer. Once they input the details online, that information is automatically relayed as-is to your fulfillment team. 

For example, automating your returns management can cut the time it takes to process each return from 15 minutes all the way down to 5. Additionally, an automated RMA system allows merchants to collect data on returns that can be extracted for insights into supply chain performance. These insights will show merchants where time and money are being wasted inside the supply chain.

Having access to returns data can also help strengthen the relationship with shipping carriers. Once a package is sent to the shipping carrier, the merchant no longer has control over the delivery process. However, it’s up to merchants to hold carriers responsible when things don’t go as planned. Not doing so risks problems like lost items and delayed deliveries becoming a regular occurrence. 

Ecommerce merchants should invest in retail technology and software to make their shipping process and supply chain as seamless as possible. 

3. Develop a Clear Return Policy

Return policy template

No business wants an order returned. Returns are tedious and expensive, they clog your fulfillment channels and claw away at your profit margins. Yet, returns are a reality of ecommerce. In 2022, 16.5 percent of all online purchases in the US were returned. 

The only way to have a return rate of 0% is not to offer returns at all. This may seem like a feasible solution. After all, no returns policy means not having to waste any time or resources on developing a returns management process or dealing with reverse supply chain logistics. However, this approach could cost you in other areas of your business. 

A part of building customer confidence is demonstrating you believe in your products. Allowing returns is an important part of doing so. Having a returns policy shows your shoppers that you believe in the quality of your products and are willing to work with your customers if they don’t find their purchase satisfactory once it arrives. 

Today’s consumer expects you to have a return policy. Not having one could discourage them from making a purchase at all. In fact, 67% of all online shoppers will check a company’s returns policy page before making a purchase. Therefore, there’s no question. As an ecommerce merchant, you have to have a returns policy if you want to enhance customer retention and increase customer lifetime value.

To complement the implementation of automated returns management, it is essential to develop a clear and user-friendly returns policy. The returns policy should be concise, written in simple language, and devoid of jargon or unnecessary legalese. By doing so, businesses can ensure that buyers easily understand and can follow the return process without confusion or hesitation.

A straightforward returns policy promotes customer compliance and reduces the risk of damage or irreparability to the returned product. When customers have a clear understanding of the steps they need to take, they are more likely to package and send the item correctly. This clarity helps to prevent mishandling or inadequate packaging, ultimately safeguarding the condition of the returned product.

By communicating the returns policy in a language that is easily understandable, businesses enhance transparency and trust with their customers. Buyers should be able to grasp the essential aspects of the policy without having to decipher complex legal terminology. The use of simple language fosters a sense of ease and reliability, encouraging customers to engage with the return process and feel confident in their ability to adhere to the policy requirements.

4. Create a Customer-Centric Shipping Policy

Man who is excited abou receiving his shipment in the mail
Excited african american man customer receive good parcel open cardboard box at home satisfied with great purchase, happy black male consumer unpack package look inside overjoyed by postal shipping delivery

Shipping policies play a crucial role in the success and reputation of ecommerce merchants. Just like return policies, customer-friendly shipping policies can be a key differentiating factor that attracts and retains customers. Clear and transparent shipping policies instill confidence in shoppers, assuring them that their orders will be handled promptly and reliably. Ecommerce merchants can create a positive shopping experience, enhance customer satisfaction, and build long-term loyalty by offering options such as free return shipping, expedited delivery, and easy returns.

Moreover, well-defined shipping policies help ecommerce merchants manage customer expectations and minimize potential conflicts. Clearly outlining shipping costs, delivery timeframes, and any restrictions or limitations helps customers make informed purchasing decisions. This prevents misunderstandings and reduces the likelihood of disputes or negative reviews. By setting realistic shipping expectations and communicating them effectively, merchants can avoid disappointment and frustration among their customers, thereby improving their brand image and credibility.

Shipping policies are crucial for maintaining operational efficiency and cost-effectiveness. By establishing streamlined processes, ecommerce merchants can optimize their shipping operations, reduce errors, and minimize fulfillment time. Careful consideration of shipping carriers, packaging materials, and tracking systems can result in faster and more reliable deliveries, reducing the risk of delays or lost packages. Additionally, implementing policies that address international shipping, customs duties, and cross-border regulations allows merchants to expand their customer base globally, opening up new markets and revenue opportunities.

Ecommerce merchants should review their shipping rules and shipping policies as they directly impact customer satisfaction, brand reputation, and operational efficiency. By providing clear information, offering convenient options, and ensuring timely deliveries, merchants can create a positive shopping experience that encourages customer loyalty and repeat business. Thoughtful shipping policies not only enhance the overall customer experience but also contribute to the long-term success and growth of ecommerce businesses in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

5. Communicate Product and Shipment Information Beforehand

Communicate Product and Shipping policy Information Beforehand
Automating your warranty management process as an ecommerce retailer opens up new opportunities for growth

In addition to clearly communicated returns policies and shipping policies, product and shipping information should also be easily accessible to shoppers. One of the drawbacks of ecommerce is the buyer’s inability to see, touch, and feel the product in person before they complete the purchase. There are lots of comical experiences around this. However, for businesses, there’s nothing amusing about the resulting returns. 

Each return processed incurs repackaging and stocking costs, labor costs, loss of sale costs, shipping costs, and an increased carbon footprint. In short, returns are timely, wasteful, and feel counterproductive to business success.

Although you can’t get rid of returns completely, you can work diligently to help mitigate unnecessary returns. With over 60% of returns caused by merchants, lowering return rates substantially is completely in your control. Take the apparel industry as an example — 70 percent of returns were the result of poor style or fit. 

Significantly reducing such errors starts by developing simple and easy-to-understand product descriptions that include size dimensions and instructions on use. Provide clear photos and videos that give the client full information on what they can expect. On shipment, procure order tracking software so buyers can see in real-time where their order is and how soon they should expect it.

Doing all this becomes easier with a system that tracks data on returns. Looking through returns data to find common returns reasons helps identify products that may be using poor images or could benefit from the addition of a sizing guide. 

This is just one example of the many ways returns data can be used to better understand your customers and create more clear communication to reduce the risk of processing a return in the post-purchase experience. Without some sort of automated software to help manage returns, making insightful decisions about where to dedicate additional resources will prove to be difficult. 

6. Investigate Major Root Causes of Returns

What Your Returns Data can Tell You About Customer Lifetime Value
Customer Lifetime Value isn’t the easiest thing to calculate and keep track of. With so many variables it can be difficult to get the big picture about the relationship between your brand and customers. Warranty data can be a valuable tool to provide clarification and insights about customer lifetime value and how defective products can actually strengthen your relationship with your customers.

There are many reasons why an order gets returned. As mentioned above, improper size and fit are common causes in the fashion industry. Others include unclear product descriptions, unclear photos/videos, and undesirable consumer practices like bracketing (more than 60 percent of customers bracket purchases).

Establish a process for aggregating returns data to determine the main root causes. Again, without an automated returns management process, doing this can be quite difficult. However, merchants who take advantage of the retail technology and software that is available to them will be able to extract useful insights with ease. While this brings in a number of benefits, perhaps the most important is the ability to better understand your customers. 

For example, maybe you’ll discover that your products are using a size/measurement convention buyers are not familiar with. Although sizing guides are added to product description pages, they don’t help provide any further clarity on how products will fit and therefore, are completely unuseful to shoppers. 

You may have previously assumed that you’re doing all that you can do to mitigate returns by offering sizing charts like was recommended, but through your returns data, you learn that your current efforts are doing nothing to help you. 

Or perhaps your descriptions and photos/videos could be better. Maybe you see that a common return reason for a particular product is that it arrived in a different shade than advertised online. This could help you discover that the lighting used in the pictures distorted the look of the products. It may be time for another photo shoot to help improve the images on your website. 

If you cannot find a pattern of returns that has to do with the nature of the product, then perhaps you could check if your return policy is too lax. This could be encouraging an unnecessarily high volume of returns or inadvertently facilitating bracketing. Work with your product, fulfillment, marketing, and legal people/teams to determine if you may have to tweak some aspects of your policy.


As a business manager, there are a lot of ecommerce fulfillment events that are within your reach. Unfortunately, there are plenty that fall outside your domain of complete control. Two of the most significant are shipping delays and order returns.

It’s essential to prepare beforehand by developing strategies that reduce the likelihood of delays and returns, while also creating a process to manage returns when they do happen. Even seemingly small adjustments can have a considerable impact thus reducing costs, minimizing losses, and improving customer satisfaction.

Ready to transform the way your team handles returns?

Talk to a returns specialist to see if you’re a good fit!

Alex Selwitz is the Director of SEO for Red Stag Fulfillment, an eCommerce fulfillment warehouse that was born out of eCommerce. He has years of experience in eCommerce and digital marketing. In his free time, Alex enjoys playing guitar and learning about new trends in the digital world.